Breast cancer programs serving Bryan, Liberty and Long counties were among those to receive a financial shot in the arm Tuesday from the Coastal Georgia Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation during a presentation at the Richmond Hill City Center.
Programs at the Coastal Health District, which includes Bryan County, and the Liberty County Health Department each received grants of more than $50,000.
In all, Komen Coastal Georgia donated $320,000 to six community programs at the presentation, which preceded its annual luncheon.
The group has donated more than $1.6 million to area programs since 2011, according to Caroline Keller, Komen Coastal Georgia board president.
“This grants program allows us to reach rural uninsured and underinsured women and men in our county,” she told those assembled for the check presentation. “And I want to make sure everyone understands that the funds raised here stay here, to meet the needs of our local communities.”
Since 2011, Komen Coastal Georgia has funded more than 5,000 screenings and diagnostic services for at-risk women and men in its nine-county area, according to Keller.
“And over 90 treatable breast cancers have been detected through Komen-funded programs,” she added.
One of those who has benefited from the grants is Hinesville’s Connie Johnson.
Jonson, who said she spent 10 years as a correctional officer before leaving the stress behind to work at a hotel, didn’t have health insurance through her job.
What she did have was breast cancer, which was discovered after she got a screening in 2013 through the Liberty County Health Department’s Be Readily Available and Very Empathetic (BRAVE) Program, which got a grant of $59,042.
Johnson, who said she usually goes to urgent care facilities when she needs health care, knew she needed a mammogram but didn’t know where to turn.
“I wanted to get one because I was getting over 40,” she said.
A cousin suggested Johnson get in touch with Annie Washington, who directs BRAVE, and Johnson was able to schedule a mammogram. The results were startling.
“They saw a shape. I had breast cancer,” she said.
In May 2013, Johnson had a double mastectomy. She’s going back for more reconstructive surgery in April and said Tuesday the screening saved her life.
“I didn’t know about the wonderful things they do,” Johnson said. “It went deeper than the just the screening and the surgery. I got a lot of support, and I had good doctors. I’m just so glad I did it.”
Washington said Johnson is one of the women BRAVE seeks to help in Liberty County by providing access to education, screening and mammograms.
Now in its fourth year, the program served 170 women in the two counties in 2013.
“We service African-American women in Liberty County in the rural areas — Riceboro, Midway, Walthourville, where it’s kind of difficult to get access to hospitals, or public health clinics and doctor’s offices,” Washington said. “In Long County we service Latino women, because these sometimes are women who are not documented and have a fear of the health system.”
In addition, the funding allows BRAVE to “partner with the mobile unit from Southeast Georgia Health Systems, “Mammograms in Motion,” Washington said. “This unit is able to go out in the most remote areas in counties.”
Registered nurse LaTonya Turner has rolled up to some pretty remote areas in the mobile mammogram clinic, which also won a grant in 2014, to set up screenings in places such as a mobile home park in Long County in front of a church.
Turner, who has also done outreach in grocery stores, said she’s noticing a trend.
“One of the things I’ve noticed is a lot more younger women have breast issues,” Turner said. “And without the Komen Fund there is nowhere for them to go for their needed services. This grant helps with the below-40 population.”
Helping those who aren’t helped by traditional state funding is a theme echoed by registered nurse Nancy Welcher, part of the Coastal Health District’s Project HOPE, or Helping Our Patients Be Empowered.
Welcher, who works in the state’s cervical cancer program in the Coastal Health District, said the $57,995 grant goes to supplementing programs and to help “people who do not qualify for the state and federal program,” either because they don’t meet income or age requirements.
In Bryan County, HOPE is available through the Bryan County Health Department’s offices in Pembroke and Richmond Hill.
“This covers the people who fall through the cracks,” Welcher said.
Komen Coastal Georgia raises funds for breast cancer programs and research through a number of events, none bigger than the upcoming Komen Race for the Cure in Savannah.
For more information on the April 12 race or Komen Coastal Georgia, call 912-232-2535 or visit www.komencoastalgeorgia.org.